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Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
Saddam aims for total support
Iraqi woman takes blood from her arm to mark yes on her voting slip
Some voters marked their referendum slips with blood
Polls have closed in Iraq after a day of voting in which people were asked to give President Saddam Hussein another seven years in office.

He was the only candidate.


By voting I have fired my gun at the head of Bush and his gang

Abdul Majid Janabi, voter
The referendum generated loud support for Saddam Hussein, with some people making their marks on ballot papers with their own blood.

There were also scenes of defiance against the United States in the face of possible war - at one polling station an American flag was put down so voters could trample it.

In the last referendum, in 1995, Saddam Hussein won more than 99.9% of the vote, and officials say this time he is on course for even higher percentage.

Saddam: Iraq's 'pride'

Telephone dialling tones in many areas were replaced on Monday by the "Naam, naam Saddam" (Yes, yes Saddam) campaign slogan.

That was followed by "All Iraq sings, 'Saddam is the pride of my country'."

Nearly 12 million people - the entire population over the age of 18 - were required to vote at 1,905 polling stations in 72 districts.

Iraqi children on stage
Stage performances honoured Saddam
The 12-hour-long voting was technically a secret ballot but few people bothered with the curtained booths. Correspondents said some people feared anyone voting "no" could be traced.

Results are expected late on Tuesday or Wednesday but correspondents say that, in a country where no dissent is tolerated, no-one is expecting any surprises.

Most polling stations were schools covered with posters of the Iraqi leader.

To encourage turnout, biscuits, sherbets and hot tea were served and children put on shows of patriotic songs.

"By voting I have fired my gun at the head of Bush and his gang," said Abdul Majid Janabi, 67, who had queued since dawn outside a polling booth in Baghdad.

Voters in Saddam City on the outskirts of Baghdad had said they all would vote for Saddam Hussein.

"It's a yes vote, if you want to say no you stay home," said one young man, quoted by the AFP news agency.

Sacrifices pledged

One young woman filled a syringe with blood from her arm and used it to mark her vote.

Iraqi painter Mohammed Khaleel displays his latest works
Dissent is not tolerated in Iraq
Several others followed her example, chanting "with our soul, with our blood we will sacrifice ourselves for you, Saddam".

Such votes are counted apart to allow the authorities to "compensate" the people, a returning officer told AFP.

The ruling Baath party has covered the country with banners declaring love for Saddam, 65, and organised thousands of meetings, parades and rallies.

Schoolchildren with big pink hearts pinned to their chests have been chanting slogans honouring the president.

For and against

State-run television has also described him as a "master of hearts".

Saddam Hussein's supporters describe him as a strong, heroic leader whom Iraq needs when the outside world is once again threatening its very existence.

The BBC's Roger Hearing, in Baghdad, says the case against - rarely heard in Iraq - is that Saddam Hussein's period as president has been marked by an almost constant state of war and crisis.

First there was the Iran-Iraq war, then the invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War, and then 11 years of sanctions and international isolation.

There is also the fact that his once-rich country is a pale shadow of what it was when he began his presidency.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jeremy Cooke
"Elections Iraqi-style mean one candidate, no competition"
The BBC's Roger Hearing in Baghdad
"Iraq's people are fully behind Saddam Hussein"
Dr Peter Ackerman, expert in non-violent conflict
"Public at large have to find ways to express their opposition"

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15 Oct 02 | Middle East
14 Oct 02 | Middle East
14 Oct 02 | Middle East
11 Oct 02 | Middle East
11 Oct 02 | Americas
27 May 02 | Middle East
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